These, then, were the first forerunners in the great cause of the abolition of the Slave-trade. Nor have their services towards it been of small moment. For, in the first place, they have enabled those, who came after them, and who took an active interest in the same cause, to state the great authority of their opinions and of their example. They have enabled them, again, to detail the history connected with these, in consequence of which circumstances have been laid open, which it is of great importance to know. For have they not enabled them to state, that the African Slave-trade never would have been permitted to exist but for the ignorance of those in authority concerning it—That at its commencement there was a revolting of nature against it—a suspicion—a caution—a fear—both as to its unlawfulness and its effects? Have they not enabled them to state, that falsehoods were advanced, and these concealed under the mask of religion, to deceive those who had the power to suppress it? Have they not enabled them to state that this trade began in piracy, and that it was continued upon the principles of force? And, finally, have not they, who have been enabled to make these statements, knowing all the circumstances connected with them, found their own zeal increased and their own courage and perseverance strengthened; and have they not, by the communication of them to others, produced many friends and even labourers in the cause?
Forerunners continued to 1787—divided from this time into four classes—First class consists principally of persons in Great Britain of various description—Godwyn—Baxter—Tryon—Southern—Primatt— Montesquieu—Hutcheson—Sharp—Ramsay—and a multitude of others, whose names and services follow.
I have hitherto traced the history of the forerunners in this great cause only up to about the year 1640. If I am to pursue my plan, I am to trace it to the year 1787. But in order to show what I intend in a clearer point of view, I shall divide those who have lived within this period, and who will now consist of persons in a less elevated station, into four classes: and I shall give to each class a distinct consideration by itself.
Several of our old English writers, though they have not mentioned the African Slave-trade, or the slavery consequent upon it, in their respective works, have yet given their testimony of condemnation against both. Thus our great Milton:—
“O execrable son, so to aspire
Above his brethren, to himself assuming
Authority usurpt, from God not given;
He gave us only over beast, fish, fowl,
Dominion absolute; that right we hold
By his donation;—but man over men
He made not lord, such title to himself
Reserving, human left from human free.”
I might mention bishop Saunderson and others, who bore a testimony equally strong against the lawfulness of trading in the persons of men, and of holding them in bondage, but as I mean to confine myself to those, who have favoured the cause of the Africans specifically, I cannot admit their names into any of the classes which have been announced.